Manchester returns home, downs Hillcrest 41-22 –
Story and photos by Mark Carpenter –
You can forgive the Manchester Greyhounds if they felt like they were in unfamiliar surroundings last Friday night. For the first time in over a month, when the Greyhounds left the locker room, they ran out on to their own home field. A grueling stretch of four consecutive road games had ended and the Hounds were back home to face the Hillcrest Rams, a team which earned a spot in the state playoffs last season.
For the Hounds, the home cooking turned out to be just the recipe they needed as they used a combination of a solid ground game and a defense that had five sacks, an interception, and recovered a pair of fumbles to race to their second win of the season, downing the Rams by a final score of 41-22.
“It was great not to play a road game,” said victorious Manchester head coach Dustin Cook. “Being back home the kids were excited and they were able to have some success. We knew Hillcrest was able to put up some points and I thought our defense did a good job of staying disciplined and we did a good job on offense of executing.”
“Everything didn’t always look pretty but we executed our assignments and found a way to win.”
The first sign that the game might light up the scoreboard came on the first two offensive possessions of the opening period, when both teams put together touchdown drives. The Rams took the opening kickoff and went 60 yards in 12 plays, eating up a big chunk of the first quarter clock, finally getting a three-yard scoring run from speedy running back Desmond Duncan, who scored all of the Hillcrest touchdowns in the game. Duncan’s first TD gave the Rams a 6-0 lead, but it only lasted two minutes.
The Greyhounds’ first possession of the contest saw them travel 59 yards in only three snaps, aided immensely by a trio of encroachment penalties on the Hillcrest defensive line. On a second down play from the Rams 28, Manchester quarterback Shaun Gould perfectly executed a ball fake, kept it himself and went all the way for six. The Hounds have another offensive weapon this season in placekicker Trent Dryden and his extra point gave the home team a 7-6 advantage at the end of the first quarter.
Four minutes into the second period, the Hounds struck again. Taking over at their own after a Hillcrest punt, the blue and gold went 75 yards in eight plays, again aided by a pair of flags against the Rams, plus a 24-yard run by Nick Woolard and a 21-yard slant pass from Gould to Marcus Neeley which set the Hounds up with a first and goal at the five. After half the distance was marked off when the Rams were again whistled for being offside, Gould found the end zone again from three yards away and the Dryden extra point made it 14-6 Manchester.
After the Rams turned the ball over on downs and the Hounds punted on their ensuing possession, the visitors got the ball back at the Manchester 45 with just over a minute left in the first half, and with the help of a 43-yard pass completion on a fourth-and-16 play, had the ball first and goal with eight seconds left. On the final play of the half, Manchester nose tackle Luke Thompson chased down the Hillcrest quarterback for a sack that kept the Hounds up by eight at the intermission.
“I thought that early in the game we did a great job of attacking the edges and when they started stacking the outside, we’re a run team and we were then able to hit some big plays up the middle, an all-around great effort.”
The halftime break must have re-energized both sides as the two teams combined for 29 points in the third quarter, 21 of those lighting up the home side of the scoreboard. The second half began with a bang for the Hounds as Woolard took the opening kickoff at his own 15 and busted it up the gut almost untouched and 85 yards later was in the end zone for the touchdown. Dryden’s extra point split the uprights for a 21-6 Manchester lead.
The Hounds got the ball right back when Woolard picked off a Hillcrest pass and returned it to midfield. The offense held the ball for 10 plays but Woolard was stopped on a fourth down run to give the ball back to the Rams, but again the Manchester defense produced a turnover when a Hillcrest fumble popped right into the arms of Jacob Calvert, who returned it the to Hillcrest 11 and two plays later Gould was in the end zone again from four yards out and another Dryden extra point extended the Greyhound advantage to 28-6.
Thompson again came up big on the next Hillcrest possession, sacking the quarterback on a fourth down play and forcing a turnover on downs, which the offense quickly capitalized on with a 30-yard touchdown run right up the middle by Woolard and when Dryden booted his fifth extra point, the home team seemed to be in a comfortable position with a big 35-6 lead with 1:36 left in the third stanza. That lead shrank a bit when the shifty Duncan took the kickoff and with a plethora of nifty cut back moves, went 80 yards to paydirt. The two-point conversion run made it 35-14 and just a little apprehension began to seep into the Greyhound faithful when the Rams recovered a Woolard fumble, but the Hillcrest offense returned the favor, with Thompson falling on a Rams’ miscue.
Hillcrest got the ball back after a Manchester punt and with 7:27 left in the game, a perfectly executed double handoff on a fake punt saw Duncan scamper 80 yards for a score and a successful two-point run by Darius Bell pulled the Rams to within 35-22.
That was about enough comeback for the Greyhounds, however, as they slammed the door on their next offensive possession, marching 65 yards in six plays, all on the ground, and getting an eight-yard scoring run from Woolard with 4:06 to play. This extra point was no good but the Hounds had iced win number two, now up 41-22, and for good measure on the next Hillcrest possession, Thompson nabbed his third sack of the game as the clock ran out and the Greyhounds celebrated the “finally back home” victory.
It was a big night for the Manchester backfield, with Gould and Woolard combining for all six touchdowns, three apiece. Thompson led the defense with his three sacks, with Dryden and Avery Reed each getting to the Hillcrest quarterback one time.
“Quarterback is a new position for Shaun and we knew going in this year that whatever we asked him to do, he’s gotten better week by week,” said Coach Cook. “We have been struggling a bit with our pass rush and we have stressed in practice that the opportunities would come and tonight guys like Luke made the most of those opportunities.”
The now 2-4 Manchester squad will now look ahead to inching even closer to the .500 mark this coming Friday night, when they will host the Green Bobcats in a 7 p.m. kickoff, the second of five consecutive home games to finish the 2017 season.
“We’ve got Green coming in so we’ll get some film on them and see how they are,” said Cook.
6 0 8 8 –22
7 7 21 6 –41
Hillcrest- Duncan 3-yd. run (conversion failed)
MHS- Gould 28-yd. run (Dryden kick)
MHS- Gould 3-yd. run (Dryden kick)
MHS- Woolard 85-yd. kickoff return (Dryden kick)
MHS- Gould 4-yd. run (Dryden kick)
MHS- Woolard 30-yd. run (Dryden kick)
Hillcrest- Duncan 80-yd. kickoff return (Walton run)
Hillcrest- Duncan 80-yd. run (Bell run)
MHS- Woolard 8-yd. run (kick failed)